Holiday 2021: Meet the Hybrid Shopper

How will consumers behave during the holiday 2021 season? A new study from 84.51 reveals omnichannel shopping is here to stay as we adapt to the ‘next normal.’
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The pandemic spurred immense change in shopper behavior and the retail industry at large in 2020. Due to lockdowns and safety concerns as well as out-of-stocks in stores, e-commerce was unleashed — in many cases out of necessity.

Consumers are now increasingly shopping online, but they are not giving up their in-store trips. A new kind of pandemic-era customer has emerged — the hybrid shopper.

While shopper behavior is still evolving, particularly in e-commerce, it’s evident the online shopping segment has already created significant opportunities for brands that were quick to recognize omnichannel shopping as the “next normal.” With the 2021 holiday season here, it will be a test of marketers’ ability to create and offer the best experiences — both in-store and online — for a new era of hybrid shoppers that fluidly move across channels.


The Birth of the Hybrid Shopper

Before understanding who today’s hybrid shopper is, it’s important to learn how they were born. Prior to 2020, the biggest hurdle for e-commerce was convincing grocery shoppers to try pickup or delivery for the first time.

As restrictions eased and more shoppers headed back in stores, many of those who tried e-commerce fulfillment for the first time in 2020 have continued to use the channel, at least on occasion, according to consumer research and historical data from 84.51, thein-house data shop for Kroger.

And even as more people have gotten vaccinated, safety concerns are lasting longer than many anticipated (partially due to the COVID-19 Delta variant wave).

Barbara Connors, vice president, commercial insights for 84.51, says the spikes and falls in COVID-19 cases have a clear impact on shoppers and their decisions on where to shop. Even when shoppers started going back in stores, she says, hybrid shopping actually increased because some people who moved primarily (or only) to e-commerce during the height of the pandemic still shopped that way, at least part of the time.

“We see a very tight correlation between concern and cases, and e-commerce usage,” Connors says. “This tells us that even in a post-pandemic environment, hybrid shopping will continue, because people have now started to use e-commerce and realized that you now have multiple methods to get your groceries that fulfill different needs, including convenience.”

Before the pandemic, consumers mostly adopted e-commerce because of convenience, but now safety is a key factor.

And some consumers are still looking for the experience, which drives physical store trips. In-store shopping offers valuable experiences, such as talking to store associates, handpicking products and, especially during the holiday season, browsing seasonal merchandise for decor and inspiration.

Additionally, consumers still choose to go into the store for high-stake items. According to 84.51 research, one of the highest-stake items is a Thanksgiving turkey. “Last year during the holiday season, those that were most engaged in e-commerce still disproportionately went to the store to get their holiday turkeys,” Connors says.

A recent white paper from 84.51, dubbed “Holidays 2021: Who’s on your list? Why the hybrid shopper is here to stay,” combines recent studies as well as historical data from 84.51 Stratum (a platform containing shopper data from nearly 60 million households over the past four years) to paint a picture of the evolving shopper landscape ahead of the holidays.

In 2020, 58% of shoppers went in-store, 24% shopped online for delivery and 86% picked up their groceries via BOPIS services, according to 84.51’s April insights study of 400 digitally engaged shoppers.

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Digital Shopper Motivations

Who are the digitally engaged shoppers? There isn’t just one type, or even two, but there are commonalities and buckets to segment them in. In terms of what motivates digital shoppers, according to 84.51, they trend Gen X and younger, have higher incomes and have children. They are high-convenience shoppers and medium to high natural and organic shoppers.

Beyond these common traits, 84.51 identified two distinct household types: the “digital champ” and the “digital dabbler.” Comparing the two, digital champs spent 20% more during the holidays than digital dabblers — and both spent significantly more than all other shoppers. The champs spent three times more on holiday pickup than the dabblers and 2.2 times more than all households, while the dabblers made two to four online shopping trips with pickup or delivery, and three or more trips in-store during that time.

Connors indicates that even within this hybrid shopper space, there’s a spectrum. “There are people who use [e-commerce] more than in-store, or in-store more than [e-commerce], and that ratio is different and how you engage those shoppers should be different,” she says, adding that marketers must do analysis quickly — and often — because shopper behaviors are changing so frequently.

For example, shoppers who recently adapted to e-commerce will change their habits over time, not only because of technology advances, but because of external factors like inflation. It’s also becoming easier for consumers to get their orders, as evidenced by retailers beginning to offer quicker delivery times.

Digital Tools

According to that April study, most online shoppers are using digital coupons — and often. Of the respondents, 90% use digital coupons, with 40% using one on every trip.

Additionally, online shoppers are utilizing other digital tools such as search, which drove the most engagement during the holiday period, according to 84.51’s research. Recent purchases, “start my cart” and browse functions from non-holiday to holiday weeks rose to the top as frequently used digital tools. Presenting products in multiple locations for shoppers to find is another way to accommodate holiday-specific e-commerce shopping behaviors.

Personalization is also a way to appeal to busy holiday shoppers and build brand loyalty. CPG companies can boost items further up the personalized product feeds by bidding on and purchasing sponsored spots within retailers’ digital coupon programs, search functions and other placements to build greater visibility.

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Pickup vs. Delivery

Most e-commerce shoppers reported they used pickup during the 2020 holiday season and more than half also shopped in-store, while just one in four used deliveries, according to 84.51’s April study. However, delivery dollar sales per household are on the rise, having increased 25% in the second half of 2020.

Connors says shoppers prefer pickup over delivery because of smaller or no fees, they have more control over timing and running in the store for more, and they can usually use paper coupons. Pickup and delivery per household combined grew by 17% in the 2020 holiday season compared to 2019, meaning there were more opportunities to be in the e-commerce basket.

Omnichannel Is Key

As COVID-19 restrictions have relaxed, in-store holiday shopping could see a boost even among digitally engaged households that still opt for an occasional in-store shopping trip (with item availability as the top driver in their decision). The convenience of e-commerce, particularly for pantry basics, will keep pickup and delivery in the mix, though.

The balance shift could be more pronounced among digital dabbler households, per 84.51, as they return to their pre-pandemic habits, than among digital champs, who were more likely to have already shopped pickup or delivery before the pandemic hit.

Plus, the holidays are likely to bring digital champs in stores. While pickup or delivery accounts for more than 71% of their overall shopping spend during the holiday period, it accounts for only 56% of their turkey spend, indicating even holiday shoppers want to hand-pick their turkey.

“The in-store experience isn’t going away,” Connors says. “As marketers are focusing on e-commerce, they also need to make sure to engage customers where they’re at, and where they’re at today is both [online and in-store].”

Other Notable Trends

With the pandemic spurring an increase in screen time, shoppers began flocking to social media sites, such as Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, for inspiration (particularly during the holiday season), in addition to discovering while browsing aisles in-store.

Savvy brands and retailers are now combining social and in-store to target shoppers. For example, Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice recently used Snapchat codes from social media company Snap to give shoppers an augmented reality (AR) experience within store aisles. At Walmart, an endcap display stocking Old Spice body spray, lotion and body wash communicated the brand’s “Smell Ready for Anything” tagline while depicting a Snapchat code. Shoppers could scan using the Snapchat mobile application to unlock AR experiences.

Kroger promotes festive and family recipes ahead of the holidays on its chain websites, linking to dedicated recipe pages with quick add-ingredient-to-cart functionality. The retailer encourages CPG marketers to understand how different cultures use their product lines and apply the Kroger Precision Marketing (its media network) advanced audience targeting tool to reach relevant households with Hispanic or Asian-American messaging, for example.

Hispanic Shoppers/Ethnic Marketing

Providing traditional ethnic recipes and a seamless path to purchase ingredients can be key, especially around the holidays. In an 84.51 study around December holidays in 2020, 60% of Hispanic shoppers said they typically prepare about half Hispanic and half non-Hispanic foods for everyday meals, but the holidays bring a greater focus on their roots and cuisine.

“From a retailer and brand perspective, it’s really important that you get it right during that season, because these customers are specifically looking for authentic items,” Connors says. “Not only that, it’s also a time where customers are looking to try new dishes or expand their recipe portfolio, so it’s an opportunity as a retailer or brand to bring new flavors to those customers.”

Connors’ advice for marketers is to double-down on content. “Creating content for on-site ad placements is a really relevant way to bring recipes and inspiration to customers as they’re building their basket,” she says. “It’s also really unique to e-commerce and not easily done in-store.”

Additionally, the holiday season is also a common time for retailers and brands to give back by creating or leveraging an existing holiday donation program. But they’re not only good for the communities they help — campaign donations by shoppers are associated with increased long-term loyalty, 84.51 says. Based on data from Kroger’s 2020 Zero Hunger Zero Waste cause campaign, the retailer saw a 68% higher increase in loyalty among previously “non-loyal” donors compared to similar non-donors, and 7% higher retention of loyalty among “top loyal” donors when compared to similar non-donors.

Final Insights

Unlike last year, people are excited to get together in person with friends and family for the holidays this year. An 84.51 study of 400 shoppers who have purchased groceries in the past year (conducted in May) found that 94% intended to gather for the Fourth of July holiday with the same number or more people than last year — an encouraging sign for the winter holidays as well.

Spending is also steady (at the time of the study), and one in three will travel more this holiday season. During the 2020 holiday season, spend per household per week increased compared to the rest of the year.

And without a doubt, the market will continue to evolve. “As e-commerce grows, you’re going to have more hybrid shoppers,” Connors says. “And they are not all created equal and need to be treated differently.”